Proverbs exemplified

Book/Illustration/Image

Description

English

This little book of proverbs was written by the Reverend J Trusler, who asked William Blake to make some engravings in 1799. Trusler’s book takes well-known proverbs and explains them, following the style of an earlier work in which he had explained and provided moral commentaries on the prints of Hogarth. 

The proverb shown here – 'Experience is the Mistress of Fools' – tells the reader that we learn better by experience than by warnings, but that experience can do us harm: we ‘buy this experience at a dear rate’. 

What is the tone of the text? 

This type of moralising text was a popular kind of literature particularly directed at children throughout the 18th century. However, it was at this time that children were beginning to be treated as not just vessels to be filled with useful knowledge and good morals, or to be worked to death or infirmity, but as people with attitudes and resistances – with a will of their own. The text shows a recognition that something more than fear and tyranny were needed to bring the Christian moral code into the children’s world. The preface to the book begins: ‘Principles of religion and lessons of morality are the first maxims that should be instilled into the minds of youth; but these truths being naturally dry and unentertaining to playful minds, very much indispose them for their reception’. 

More about the book 

The book is illustrated with woodcut prints made by John Bewick, brother of Thomas Bewick. Trusler was by this stage a well-known figure, who grew wealthy publishing books on medicine, farming, history, politeness, law, theology, travel, gardening, collections of sermons, and the very popular The Way to be Rich and Respectable, Addressed to Men of Small Fortune (1775).

Full title
Proverbs exemplified
Published
1790 , London
Format
Book / Illustration / Image
Creator
John Trusler
Held by
British Library
Usage Terms
Free from known copyright restrictions
Shelfmark
715.b.38.

Related articles

William Blake and 18th-century children’s literature

Article by
Julian Walker
Themes: 
Romanticism, Childhood and children's literature

Julian Walker looks at William Blake’s poetry in the context of 18th-century children’s literature, considering how the poems’ attitudes towards childhood challenge traditional ideas about moral education during that period.

Moral and instructive children’s literature

Article by
M O Grenby
Theme: 
Childhood and children's literature

Professor M O Grenby looks at the ways in which children’s literature of the 18th and 19th centuries sought to improve its young readers, combining social and moral instruction with entertainment.

Related collection items

Related works

Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Created by: William Blake

A collection of poems by William Blake (1757 – 1827), illustrated with the poet's own etchings and published ...